Aki kaze ya
Ware ni kami nashi
The wind in autumn
As for me, there are no gods,
There are no Buddhas.
A man gets shipwrecked on an island that’s less than half a mile around. When he’s rescued years later, his rescuers discover that he’s built two synagogues! “This one,” he says, bringing them into the sanctuary, “is where I’ve gone every week to talk to God and to keep my sanity. And that one,” he shouts, pointing at the second synagogue, “I wouldn’t be caught dead in that one!”
Where standalone critical thinking courses exist, however, they are mostly found within the humanities and social sciences. Those courses often center on argumentation and literary criticism, or instead on the philosophy of logic, but there are opportunities to expand this— particularly by giving science a larger presence.Johnson advocates the teaching of logic, rhetoric, cognitive biases and pitfalls,and the scientific method. Critical thinking courses are readily adaptable to the critique of American culture, and the incorporation of objective knowledge, or rather investigation of the basis for knowledge claims and determining their objective basis, is also useful. Such courses would have to be interdisciplinary.
Contrary to the criticism that classes like this would merely be weekly exercises in debunking, critical thinking is as much about problem solving and extracting meaning from complexity as it is about not falling for hokum. (Of course, conspiracy theories and sasquatches would certainly make an appearance.) And this is where science fits in so naturally. Practice with a scientific way of thinking—developing conclusions that flow from the data, rather than cherry-picking data to support your pre-existing conclusion—adds such an important tool to the kit.To this I would add my own comment: note that in order to exercise critical thinking, there is an actual knowledge base that has to be acquired; there has to be content and a real-world background off which to bounce critical perspectives, which cannot exist in a formalistic vacuum. And, as the author insists, mere teaching of content does not guarantee the capacity for critical thinking. With this in mind, see my bibliography:
While traditional elaborations of the formal characteristics of critical thinking are always useful, they do not guarantee the ability to think critically in real-world ideological, social, practical contexts. I contend that in effect there is no such thing as critical thinking in general, and that critical thinking is not formal, but content-driven. Here I am not thinking merely of credentials or qualifications, though such are customarily necessary in our time for scientific advances. Assuming legitimate expertise, the problem is that experts in one area may be cretins in others or in matters of common concern, because they are not at heart critical thinkers, or because they don't know how to engage other areas of inquiry, for lack of knowledge, the proper analytical skills or knowledge base, familiarity, etc. Furthermore, amateurs can be critical thinkers in the areas in which they are not experts, but to do so they have to engage enough of the content so that they can formulate meaningful questions.
As a theory of knowledge and of reality, mysticism is false. It absolutizes a moment in man's interaction with the world—the sense of qualitative unity. It statically identifies that moment with reality and with knowledge. It destroys the distinction between man and the world and obliterates the dialectic between them. Mysticism is the practice and ideology of men bent on escape from their conflicts and struggles in the real world. It is a flight of the attention from continuous intercourse with things, events, and people to concentration on a single quality or experience. It is a flight of fantasy insofar as it elaborates a theory in defense of this flight in practice. In the Western Christian Church heretical movements have often been associated with mysticism because it represented a counter‑movement against abstract and verbal orthodoxy. But it remained an alienated protest against the ruling form of alienation, a religious answer to a religious mistake. That mistake, especially in Western supernaturalism but also in various forms and mysticism, is the division and falsification of reality in thought. Things and events are interpreted as static, fixed, and isolated from one another, with no real interpenetration, conflict, development, or qualitative change. Such an interpretation serves the interest of the ruling class, which wishes to keep things and classes as they are, and to avoid conflict, change, and development into a new kind of class society or into a classless society. Mysticism perpetuates this mistake by emphasis on an experience which presumes to absorb and transform (aufheben) all parts and conflicts into a final and unified whole. But the mistake of mysticism is that while the world is felt to be unified, it goes on, in separated processes that interact and change without ceasing, outside the skin of the mystic.
11/17/12 Atheism & Humanism as Bourgeois IdeologyThis podcast provides a framework for thinking about the atheist/humanist/skeptics subculture in the Anglo-American sphere (and possibly beyond) which is different from anything else you are going to find on the subject.
I propose a framework in which the intellectual basis of the atheist - humanist - skeptical movement, particularly in the USA, can be seen as a progressive bourgeois ideology that, while marking an historical advance beyond pre-modern, pre-industrial, pre-technological, pre-capitalist, supernaturally based forms of unreason, addresses only one half of the cognitive sources of irrationality of the modern world, and is ill-equipped to grapple with the secular forms of unreason, which can be denoted by the term "ideology". I argue that the Anglo-American intellectual heritage of atheism has never absorbed the indispensable heritage of German philosophy and social theory from Hegel to Marx to 20th century critical theory and thus remains philosophically underdeveloped and ensconced in a naive scientism. I furthermore argue that American atheism / humanism lacks adequate historical perspective due to the historical amnesia induced by the two historical breaks of McCarthyism and Reaganism. To combat historical amnesia I highlight not only relevant intellectual history but the buried history of working class atheism. I also sketch out some relevant philosophical aspects of the history of the American humanist movement beginning with the first Humanist Manifesto of 1933. I then discuss the intellectual consequences of the political repression of the McCarthy era. From there I discuss two prominent influences of the 1960s and 1970s, atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair and humanist Paul Kurtz. I highlight Kurtz's dialogue with the Yugoslav Marxist-Humanist philosophers and his failure to learn from the encounter. Finally, I discuss the intellectual shortcomings of the so-called "new atheism" and today's celebrity atheists in the context of the depressing political perspective of our reactionary neoliberal era. I also don't spare the dissidents within the movement from my accusations of intellectual superficiality. I end on a note of bleak pessimism.
"Kierkegaard is one of the great writers of today. He is one of the men who, during the last twenty or thirty years, modern civilization has recognized as a man whose writings express the modern temperament and the modern personality. And Dick assured me that he was reading Kierkegaard because everything he read in Kierkegaard he had known before. What he was telling me was that he was a black man in the United States and that gave him an insight into what today is the universal opinion and attitude of the modern personality. I believe that is a matter that is not only black studies, but is white studies too. I believe that that is some form of study which is open to any university: Federal City College, Harvard, etc. It is not an ethnic matter. I knew Wright well enough to know that he meant it. I didn’t ask him much because I thought he meant me to understand something. And I understood it. I didn’t have to ask him about that. What there was in Dick’s life, what there was in the experience of a black man in the United States in the 1930s that made him understand everything that Kierkegaard had written before he had read it and the things that made Kierkegaard the famous writer that he is today? That is something that I believe has to be studied."
C.L.R. James, "Black Studies and the Contemporary Student" (1969)
Cotkin never forgets the religious sources of existentialism, and thus Lowrie exists in his book as more than translator and editor. He had grown weary of the vapid ‘social gospel’ of 1920s and 1930s America, with its assumption that one might be virtuous and close to God merely because one held progressive social views. What does God care whether one is a progressive? Kierkegaard’s supreme indifference towards social moralizing offered escape from the anodyne social gospel, and Lowrie took up his own scholarly place in a tradition that would come to include, in Europe, Karl Barth’s The Epistle to the Romans (1968), as well as, in America, Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1945) and The Irony of American History (1952).
“What does our ’intellectual’, frivolous crowd that instigates and applauds the Stakhoviches care for the affairs of our sacred orthodox faith and our time-honoured attitude towards it?”... Once again, so much the worse for you, gentlemen, champions of the autocracy, the orthodox faith, and the national essence. A fine system indeed our police ridden autocracy must be, if it has permeated even religion with the spirit of the prison-cell, so that the “Stakhoviches” (who have no firm convictions in matters of religion, but who are interested, as we shall see, in preserving a stable religion) become utterly indifferent (if not actually hostile) to this notorious “national” faith. "... They call our faith a delusion!! They mock at us because, thanks to this ’delusion’, we fear and try to avoid sin and we carry out our obligations uncomplainingly, no matter how severe they may be; because we find the strength and courage to bear sorrow and privations and forbear pride in times of success and good fortune...." So! The orthodox faith is dear to them because it teaches people to bear misery “uncomplainingly”. What a profitable faith it is indeed for the governing classes! In a society so organised that an insignificant minority enjoys wealth and power, while the masses constantly suffer “privations” and bear “severe obligations”, it is quite natural for the exploiters to sympathise with a religion that teaches people to bear “uncomplainingly” the hell on earth for the sake of an alleged celestial paradise. But in its zeal Moskovskiye Vedomosti became too garrulous. So garrulous, in fact, that unwittingly it spoke the truth. We read on: "... They do not suspect that if they, the Stakhoviches, eat well, sleep peacefully, and live merrily, it is thanks to this ’delusion’.”
The sacred truth! This is precisely the case. It is because religious “delusions” are so widespread among the masses that the Stakhoviches and the Oblomovs,” and all our capitalists who live by the labour of the masses, and even Moskovskiye Vedomosti itself, “sleep peacefully”. And the more education spreads among the people, the more will religious prejudices give way to socialist consciousness, the nearer will be the day of victory for the proletariat —the victory that will emancipate all oppressed classes from the slavery they endure in modern society.
Ralph Dumain has a helpful review of Is God a White Racist? here.
"The power embodied in jazz violently shatters our interior, as its pure rhythm both returns us to an archaic identity and hurls us into a new and posthistoric universality. Most startling of all, the “noise” of jazz releases a new silence, a silence marked by the absence of every center of selfhood, the disappearance of the solitude of the “I.” That silence is the silence of a new solitude, an absolute solitude which has finally negated and reversed every unique and interior ground of consciousness, thereby releasing the totality of consciousness in a total and immediate presence And we rejoice when confronted with this solitude, just as we rejoice in hearing jazz, for the only true joy is the joy of loss, the joy of having been wholly lost and thereby wholly found again."
— Thomas J.J. Altizer, Total Presence: The Language of Jesus and the Language of Today, 1980, pp. 107-108.
SOURCE: "Thomas J. J. Altizer (1927-)," edited by Derek Michaud, incorporating material by Wilfredo H. Tangunan and Andrew Irvine, Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology.
Is it at all possible for the feeling man to resist feeling, for the loving man to resist love, for the rational man to resist reason? Who has not experienced the irresistible power of musical sounds? And what else is this power if not the power of feeling? Music is the language of feeling—a musical note is sonorous feeling or feeling communicating itself. Who has not experienced the power of love, or at least not heard of it? Which is the stronger—love or the individual man? Does man possess love, or is it rather love that possesses man? When, impelled by love, a man gladly sacrifices his life for his beloved, is this his own strength that makes him overcome death, or is it rather the power of love? And who has not experienced the power of thought, given that he has truly experienced the activity of thinking? When, submerged in deep reflection, you forget both yourself and your surroundings, is it you who controls reason, or is it rather reason that controls and absorbs you? Does not reason celebrate its greatest triumph over you in your enthusiasm for science? Is not the drive for knowledge simply an irresistible and all-conquering power? And when you suppress a passion, give up a habit, in short, when you win a victory over yourself, is this victorious power your own personal power existing, so to speak, in isolation, or is it rather the energy of will, the power of morality which imposes its rule over you and fills you with indignation of yourself and your individual weaknesses?